My friend Jenny is always coming up with these fantastic things that make her (and others) furiously happy. (!!!!!!) You may know this about her. You may have heard about our Beyonce adventure. Or her WOLVERINES! campaign. Or her ongoing Wil Wheaton collating responses. Or the time she and her readers saved Christmas.
But on this Halloween holiday, I’d like to talk about something more specifically related to fear and dressing up and furious happiness. I’d like to discuss the brilliance of the Traveling Red Dress adventures.
It started as almost everything does with Jenny…a random idea. She wanted to wear the dress but she couldn’t imagine doing it just for herself…she wanted to share the joy. Because, as silly as it may seem, there’s something a bit magical about that dress. In Jenny’s words...
I want, just once, to wear a bright red, strapless ball gown with no apologies. I want to be shocking, and vivid and wear a dress as intensely amazing as the person I so want to be. And the more I thought about it the more I realized how often we deny ourselves that red dress and all the other capricious, ridiculous, overindulgent and silly things that we desperately want but never let ourselves have because they are simply “not sensible”. Things like flying lessons, and ballet shoes, and breaking into spontaneous song, and building a train set, and crawling onto the roof just to see the stars better. Things like cartwheels and learning how to box and painting encouraging words on your body to remind yourself that you’re worth it.
So she got it. And she wore it. And she began sending the dress around to those who needed it for whatever reason. All different reasons. All have stories attached to them. And there are many…You can read about them here. (Top photo by Better in Bulk.)
Or even about mine here.
Jenny brought this dress over to my house on my 40th birthday and insisted that we do a shoot. I say insisted because she did insist, but also because I was uncharacteristically hesitant. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to do it…I really, really wanted to do it…but I was also really scared of it. The dress is intimidating. It’s large. And it’s red. And I was uncomfortable with that much energy being focused on me and actually on me.
(And seriously, not to get all Northern California on you, but this dress has some serious energy attached to it. I can’t totally explain it, but imagine the thrill of the biggest-greatest party you’ve ever been to, add some angst from a middle-school tryout for something, plus a side of the excitement you felt on the first Halloween you can remember. It’s like that. Then multiply that energy times all the energy of anyone else who’s worn it, that’s The Energy-of-The-Dress math.)
Plus, if I’m honest, I’ll tell you I was afraid of what the photos would look like. I wasn’t sure that they’d match up to the way I felt in the dress. Or the way I felt about myself at 40. It’s complicated. But on about four levels, I would say, I didn’t want to see myself.
Because even though I still feel almost exactly like I did at 16, I know that I’m not. I’m not at all. The 16-year-old me was naive, and predictable, and safe. While my current self has lived enough and seen enough to know that life is anything but safe or predictable. Sometimes it’s shocking, disappointing, thrilling, and really scary. Sometimes it’s all those things at once. And sometimes the most shocking part is how you’re able to handle it, and how you’re able to wear it.
And that’s the thing about The Red Dress. It’s also the thing about Halloween. There’s power in putting on a costume…becoming something new, something uncharacteristic, something better.
I know tonight, as little kids everywhere don their fantastical princess outfits, their super hero leotards of justice, or (in our case) their super evil Darth Vader garb, for just a few hours, they’re becoming something completely different…and something completely themselves too.
I think costumes and masks get a bad wrap in life and in literature. Of course, it’s always preferable to be authentic, but I believe that sometimes it takes dressing up as something else to recognize who we are.